Educational Workshops on Organic Dairy Management

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2004: $39,377.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2006
Region: Western
State: California
Principal Investigator:
Ken Andersen
University of California Cooperative Extension

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: corn, grass (misc. perennial), hay
  • Animal Products: dairy


  • Animal Production: parasite control, feed additives, feed formulation, free-range, feed rations, herbal medicines, homeopathy, manure management, mineral supplements, pasture fertility, pasture renovation, preventive practices, probiotics, range improvement, grazing - rotational, housing, vaccines, watering systems, winter forage, feed/forage
  • Crop Production: continuous cropping, nutrient cycling
  • Education and Training: extension, farmer to farmer, technical assistance
  • Farm Business Management: whole farm planning, cooperatives
  • Pest Management: integrated pest management
  • Production Systems: holistic management
  • Soil Management: soil analysis, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: new business opportunities

    Proposal abstract:

    We propose to offer a series of three workshops designed to address the specific challenges of pasture-based organic dairy systems. We developed our proposal in response to regional dairy industry needs and the rapidly growing interest in organic management. It is crucial that these producers have access to accurate, science-based information. We selected workshop topics based on the responses to a questionnaire and from talking to dairy producers. Our first workshop will focus on health and veterinary practices that reduce dependence on medications such as antibiotics and parasiticides. It has become common in the dairy industry to administer antibiotics on a routine basis to prevent infection. Dairy producers who want to transition to organic must abandon all use of antibiotics to be in compliance with federal regulations adopted in fall 2002 governing organic production. To be successful, they need to learn strategies to maintain the health of their herds and prevent infection through proper sanitation and stress management. At our proposed workshop, they will hear from veternary health care professionals who are experienced in caring for organically managed dairy animals and who are knowledgeable about the efficacy of alternative medicines. They will hear from successful organic dairy producers who can share personal experiences of making the transition to organic management, including challenges, hurdles, and benefits. Workshop attendees will also hear about holistic health care, the role of grazing in animal health, and about National Organic Program (NOP) compliance issues concerning health care. The second workshop will address nutrition management in an organic dairy herd. Topics will include how to assess the forage value of the pasture resource, how to find and select organic feed supplements, and the importance of proper nutrition in maintaining herd health. Furthermore, helping producers to source a stable supply of consistent, high quality feed is critical to maintaining high quality milk products. There is a direct correlation between the price and the quality of their milk. The third workshop will deal with organic pasture management. Topics will include how to manage a pasture for biodiversity and nutritional quality, rotational grazing, and organic soil fertility management. At the conclusion of each workshop, we will ask attendees to complete a survey to help us determine whether the workshops were useful in increasing producer knowledge about organic dairy management. We will ask if the information presented was relevant, whether they expect to use the knowledge gained in their operations, and whether they expect to change their operations or try new management techniques based on the information presented.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Our objectives are: 1) to provide dairy producers with science-based information they need to manage a dairy herd organically; 2) to assist dairy producers in networking with technical specialists and with other producers; 3) to enhance sustainability of our regional dairy industry; and 4) to extend low-cost technical services to limited resource dairy producers.

    Objective 1 shall be achieved by careful selection of speakers with technical expertise in the topics they are presenting and by supplementing the oral presentations with written reference materials. Workshop attendees will leave with phone numbers for the experts they heard speak so they can call if they have a question. They will also leave with a workbook full of relevant information they can consult as needed.

    Objective 2 shall be achieved by providing the opportunity for dairy producers to meet with other attendees of the workshop and to meet technical experts who can advise them individually and in person. Contact information for all workshop participants will be distributed to facilitate followup communications.

    Objective 3 shall be achieved by providing dairy producers with tools they need to be successful in their transition to organic. An increase in organic dairy production, as we have discussed, will enhance the sustainability of our regional dairy industry.

    Objective 4 shall be achieved by securing grant funding to cover the costs of bringing technical experts to our region to advise dairy producers as a group, with some time provided for individual questions and concerns to be addressed.

    Performance Targets
    We hope the workshops will stimulate interest among dairy producers to adopt sustainable practices and to diversify their enterprises. Organic production, as defined by the National Organic Program (NOP), is managed “…to respond to site-specific conditions by integrating cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.” Sound organic dairy management practices protect soil and water resources from pollution that can result from conventional dairy management.

    The information provided in the proposed workshops will help promote good stewardship of natural resources, including soil, water, and air. This will be achieved by providing the producers with information on site-specific methods for reducing the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides and for efficient use of dairy manure. A transition to organic dairy management can help to maintain and improve the quality of surface and ground water, improve soil health, and enhance wildlife habitat.

    We hope that the lessons learned will also help producers improve the economic viability of their operations and enhance the quality of life for themselves and their community. Through innovative niche marketing, organic dairy producers can ensure profitable self-employment, and maintain their lands in agricultural production. The entire community benefits from the preservation of open space with aesthetic values and wildlife habitat values.

    Furthermore, the adoption of dairy practices that reduce the use of antibiotics and hormones will be beneficial to consumer health and safety. Consumers are becoming more aware about these issues and are showing increasing support for the production of organic dairy products.
    We conducted database searches of SARE and western SARE projects (see attached). We did not find any projects that included educational workshops of the nature we are proposing. The agendas and the workbooks that we prepare could be used to serve as models for others involved in agricultural extension.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.